Often the promise of a much-anticipated game is greater than that which is produced. Sometimes these rabid rivalries fizzle. Sometimes they sizzle.
The USC-Cal State Long Beach women's basketball game Tuesday night was in the latter category. The 12th-ranked 49ers, finally, beat the 15th-ranked Trojans, 80-78, in front of 1,457 in the Sports Arena.
Neither team could rid itself of the other. Neither team dominated. The lead see-sawed until the closing moments when it became clear that the last team with the ball would win.
The Trojans tied the game with 56 seconds left on an impossible shot by Kalen Wright, easily the smallest, slightest player on the floor. Wright launched herself up and threw in a shot that tied it at 76-76.
Penny Toler gave the 49ers a two-point lead with 25 seconds left on a driving layin with one second left on the shot clock.
USC tied it again when Tammy Hammond cooly sank a 12-foot jumper with 11 seconds left in the game.
Long Beach took the ball and called a time out with seven seconds left and the crowd on its feet.
When the final play unfolded, USC was looking for Toler to take the shot, but she was smothered by defenders and shoveled the ball to Traci Waites.
Waites' hurried shot from about 15 feet bounced off the rim into the hands of teammate Cheryl Dowell. Dowell took the rebound under the basket and tossed in the winning basket an instant before the final buzzer sounded.
"You want to know something scary?" asked USC guard Paula Pyers. "Coach Sharp drew that exact play in the huddle (during the last time out). The same one they used. We sometimes don't listen."
The win for Long Beach (15-5) is only its second win at USC in nine years. USC (14-6) has yet to beat the 49ers in Long Beach.
"I feel bad for Linda, but I've been on the losing end for a long time, too," said Long Beach Coach Joan Bonvicini of USC Coach Linda Sharp. "I've said I don't like close games, but this was good for our team to prove we can win in tough situations."
It was the closest game the 49ers have been in this season.
More was expected of Toler, who has been averaging 23 points a game. She did not start because of a knee injury but played 12 minutes and was held to only six points in the first half. She finished the game with 20 points.